Parashat Beshalach 5778
We should not rejoice when a human being falls
This week’s parashah tells us about the crossing of the Red Sea by the Jews, their redemption from Egyptian oppression, the song “Shirat Hayam,” “The Song at the sea” which they sang, and their rejoicing at the miracle of having been saved.
This is one of the few times in the Torah that a poetic chant appears. Immediately after the Jews crossed the Red Sea, a large celebration arose, where they danced and sang. It was a true expression of thanksgiving and praise, produced from their own hearts through their movement and voices. After suffering so much fear and uncertainty, they were saved. It was a true hymn to life.
However, it was not all joy. The Torah tells us that “the waters turned back and covered the chariots and the horsemen – Pharaoh’s entire army that followed them into the sea; not one of them remained” (Sh’mot 14: 28). The Egyptians who pursued the Hebrews were drowned in the sea.
It is written in the Talmud: “The Holy One, Blessed be He, does not rejoice over the downfall of the wicked. Rabbi Yoḥanan said: What is the meaning of that which is written: “And the one came not near the other all the night” (Exodus 14:20)? The ministering angels wanted to sing their song, for the angels would sing songs to each other, as it states: “And they called out to each other and said” (Isaiah 6:3), but the Holy One, Blessed be He, said: The work of My hands, the Egyptians, are drowning at sea, and you wish to sing songs? This indicates that God does not rejoice over the downfall of the wicked” (Talmud Bavli Masechet Megilla 10b).
The angels wanted to sing but God was angry at them and argued that the divinity cannot rejoice over the downfall of human beings, despite the fact that they were enemies of the people of Israel.
You may find a similar idea in the Book of Proverbs: “If your enemy falls, do not exult; If he trips, let your heart not rejoice” (Proverbs 24:10).
I believe this is a good lesson for us. We should not rejoice when any human being is fallen. The Hebrews were redeemed, but the Egyptians were drowning. The joy cannot be complete.
We find an example of this principle in the chanting of Hallel during the Pesach festival. Hallel is a group of Psalms of Praise (Psalms 113-118), included within the liturgy of most Jewish festivals as a way to express our gratitude, praise, and joy in each commemoration. However, on the last six days of Passover we don’t pray the full Halllel; we skip two psalms.
According to our tradition, the seventh day of Pesach was the day when the Jews were saved, but it was also the day when many Egyptian soldiers drowned in the Red Sea. Although the Jews were saved from death and persecution of the Egyptians, it cannot be a day of full joy, given that human beings lost their lives. God was saddened by the death of the Egyptians, so God is not able to listen to praises.
When we recall the story of Passover, we shouldn’t forget that the Jews were saved but several Egyptians died. Although there are people, even today, who rejoice on the death even of neighbors, if they were opponents in some cause, our tradition teaches us to be sensitive to such loses. The death of any human being, notwithstanding their convictions, thoughts, and ideologies, cannot be a reason for rejoicing.